Monthly Archives: May 2015

Serial Killers and Silent Dog Trees

Picture of Waterfall valley.
Missed the earlier section? Here it is:

January 14, 2015
Day 181
Overland Track Day 1

Now that I had my food and supplies organized for the Overland Track, the only question that remained was “How will I get to the trailhead?” I could take a bus all the way from Devonport to Cradle Mountain. But along the way, I wanted to check out the small town of Sheffield, famous for its murals, and the bus didn't stop there. Instead, I decided to hitch a ride to Sheffield, look at the murals for an hour or two, and either hitchhike the rest of the way to Cradle Mountain, or catch the bus as it passed through town. After my experience of “hitching” to the campground in Devonport (where I didn't even have to ask for a ride), I figured hitchhiking in the rest of Tasmania would be easy.

I walked to the edge of Devonport, carrying my backpack loaded with food and camping gear for the next week. I found a safe place, with good visibility and plenty of room for cars to pull aside, put on a smile and stuck out my thumb. Car after car passed by; the drivers ignored me. I wasn't surprised when the little old ladies driving tiny cars chose not to stop. But people driving pickup trucks with open beds, and Volkswagen and Mitsubishi “hippie vans” didn't even glance my way. I was invisible.

Dejected, I turned around and walked back into Devonport after an hour. I would have tried longer, but now I had to execute my backup plan of taking the bus all the way from Devonport to Cradle Mountain. If I continued to hitch and didn't make it to the trailhead by midday, I would lose my permit to hike the Overland Track. I later learned that a man named Ivan Milat had killed at least seven hitchhikers in New South Wales in the early 1990s. Ever since his capture, Australians have been leery of anyone attempting to hitch a ride (even though it was the driver, not the hitchhiker, who had committed those horrible crimes). After learning this, I decided to retire from my brief stint as a down-under hitcher.

Luckily, the bus still had a few empty seats. It took me, along with around ten other hikers and day-trippers to Cradle Mountain. Along the way, the bus passed through Sheffield, but it didn't stop. Oh well. I did get to see some of the murals for five whole seconds. After leaving Sheffield, we went on a long uphill journey, full of magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.

The weather turned cold and rainy. The Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre was full of people waiting out the storm. I found the ranger's desk to sign in for the trek, but there was a problem: I had only purchased my permit a few days earlier, after they had already printed the list of permit-holders, so my name wasn't on it. They had to dig through the computer records to locate my permit. But all was well, and soon I was officially checked in.

Picture of forest.

The forest near Cradle Mountain.

Finally, I hopped onto a shuttle bus bound for the trailhead. During the ride, the driver explained that Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park was full of “silent dog” trees (so called “because they ain't got no bark!”). Those trees were still alive, but there were also many dead ones. I asked the driver if an invasive beetle had gotten to them. Nope – due of Tasmania's strict quarantine, the island had remained relatively free of invasive species, at least compared with the mainland. (Though tragically, the native Tasmanian tiger was hunted to extinction because farmers considered it to be a pest.) The reason there were so many dead trees standing was simply because they were allowed to decay naturally. You could even tell how long a tree had been dead by the number of branches it still had. The limbless ones died over half a century ago.

The shuttle bus dropped me off at the Ronny Creek Car Park, where there was a fancy sign marking the beginning of the trail. The bus turned around and headed back to the visitor center. Other than the cars that were parked in the lot, the bus was the last vehicle I would see for a week.

The rain had stopped, but the wind was strong and dark clouds still swirled around the sky. I walked into a three-walled shelter and made a peanut butter sandwich, protected from the wind. A few groups of day-hikers showed up to look at the map posted inside the shelter. Some people were also carrying huge backpacks; they were fellow holders of permits for the Overland Track. Other than a map, the shelter also prominently displayed the local forecast for the next several days. It looked horrible: rain, rain and more rain, coupled with extreme wind and occasional snow. It was as if the forecast I had seen a few days earlier was for another country. This was my last chance to back out; if I wanted to leave the trek early, a helicopter would have to rescue me. Still, I wasn't going to turn around now. Not after coming this far.

I started hiking along the well-maintained trail. Duckboard, topped with chicken wire for extra traction, covered all of the muddy sections. The path led me through a temperate a rain forest, to Cradle Lake and Cradle Falls. When I took a break to photograph the waterfall, the weather quickly deteriorated. I sealed my camera in a waterproof sack, slid my rain cover over my backpack and continued. The trail became a long, uphill march; this was the most difficult section of the Overland Track. By the time I reached a pass called Marion's Lookout, freezing rain was pelting me in the face. Strong gusts of wind threatened to blow me off of the path. I didn't stop to take in the view because there wasn't one. The dense fog covered everything.

After the pass, the path turned downhill, and I got a bit of relief from the extreme exposure. The clouds actually broke apart a bit too, allowing me to see just enough of the valley to know that it would look spectacular during decent weather. This was a long, flat section of trail, during which I saw the colorful dots of a few other hikers' backpacks. We all seemed to be charging for the hut that marked our campsite before more serious weather came in.

The path continued downhill, into Waterfall Valley. There were a few wildflowers, and plenty of green shrubbery, but the fog still prevented me from seeing the distant mountains. Every hiking trail comes with a long set of worst-case-scenario warnings, which I usually interpret as the government covering themselves against lawsuits. But I could already tell that the Overland Track's warnings of extreme weather were serious. On a sunny day, the trail wouldn't be particularly difficult or dangerous, especially considering that the muddy sections were covered with duckboard, but the weather could change for the worse in an instant.

I reached the Waterfall Valley Hut at around 5:00 PM. All hikers were required to carry a tent, but with the wind and rain showing no signs of slowing, it looked like everyone on the trail would opt to sleep indoors. The hut was cramped with hikers, but everyone was careful not to encroach on others' space. A ranger and a volunteer were holding down the fort. There was a gas heater, but we could only turn it on when the temperature dropped below ten degrees Celsius. (Fuel had to be helicoptered in, making it extremely expensive.) Coincidentally, the mercury remained at eleven degrees all evening.

The hut had space for twenty-four hikers, divided into four platforms. I blew up my air mattress, draped my pink fleece blanket over the top and changed into all of my warm clothes. I hung my soaking wet clothes in the porch, next to everyone else's gear, though I didn't expect it to dry without the aid of the heater. Most of my fellow hikers were Australian, though there was a German couple and two young French guys who carried a liter of milk and four cans of Red Bull in their backpacks.

There was a bit of grumbling about the limited space in the hut, but for me, it was quite cozy. I hadn't slept in a building in over a week. Given the horrible weather and my lack of winter gear, the hut was pure luxury.

More photos from the Overland Track

Continue to Days 2 - 4

Preparing for the Overland Track

Picture of trail.

The beginning of the Overland Track.

January 9 – 13, 2015
Days 176 – 180

Before coming to Australia, I had lived for five months in Beijing, China. After having spent so much time in one of the biggest cities on the planet, I just wanted to get as far from people as possible. Tasmania was a good choice. The entire island only had 513,000 people, and nearly half of them lived in Hobart. “Tassie” had plenty rugged wilderness to explore. Where, exactly, would I go?

The lack of public transportation, combined with the fact that I would most likely be on my own, limited my options. After doing a bit of research, I learned that the Overland Track is one the highest-rated treks in the world. The trail starts at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, a few hours from Devonport and accessible by bus. From there, the trail goes south, skirting the edges of some of the tallest mountains in Tasmania. The trail ends at the Lake Saint Clair Visitor Centre, which is close to a highway (ie, easy to hitch a ride back to Devonport). The route was supposed to be easy to follow, and there were bound to be lots of other people in the same general area as me, so I didn't mind going it alone.

The only problem with hiking the Overland Track was that a permit was required. This trek was popular – hikers generally bought their permits six months in advance. But they also tended to go in groups. It just so happened that there was still a single permit available a few days hence, so I scooped it up. There weren't any days with multiple permits available for the next two months. Traveling alone does have its advantages.

I couldn't start walking for a few days, but that was OK by me. The forecast called for thunderstorms on the last day before my trek was to begin. After that, it was supposed to be warm and sunny for the next week. But even so, the Tasmanian Mountains were notorious for bad weather. Snow was possible, even in summer. I would have to prepare for the worst.

Picture of train.

The Don River Railway train.

The next day, I followed the hiking path that went past my campground. It took me through a eucalyptus forest for a few miles, and ended in a village called Don. I was about to turn around and walk back to my campsite when I spotted a railway museum. I spent the next few hours looking at the old passenger trains that used to cart people around Tasmania. Most of the cars were bare-bones by today's standards, but the carriage the British royal family took across the island was an example of late-Victorian opulence. When I left the museum, I ate my lunch in a park and met a lovely retired couple who invited me to visit them in Deloraine after I finished my trek. I told them I'd call them when I got back to town.

One day I decided to buy a few supplies for the Overland Track. I didn't bring a sleeping bag on this trip because my plan was to travel in the Australian summer for two months, then spend another month in tropical Cambodia and Vietnam before heading back to Beijing. The weather was hot in Devonport, but I knew I would need something to keep me warm in the mountains. I picked up a pink fleece blanket from the Salvation Army for $2 and a space blanket from an outdoors shop. I also had a winter hat, a down jacket and two sets of long underwear with me. Even though the forecast called for warm weather, I figured I could survive a night in my tent, as long as the temperature didn't drop much below freezing.

On the last day before my trek, I went grocery shopping. The Overland Track was supposed to take seven days, but like the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria, the official sections were short. Still, this was the only trek I planned to do in Tasmania, so I didn't mind taking my time. On the other hand, the longer I stretched out my trek, the more the extra food would weigh me down. This is one of the guessing games involved with trekking. Take too much food and you can't carry your backpack. Take too little and you go hungry. I ended up buying enough quick-cooking food for seven days, with the thought that if I was going to run out, I could always combine two days of walking and hike out early. When I got back to my campsite in Devonport, I carefully planned each meal, keeping in mind how many calories I would be taking in, and how many I would likely burn on the trail.

As expected, it rained hard for most of that final day. The temperature also plummeted. I was on the coast and it was the middle of summer, but I was freezing. I dreaded to think of what would have happened if I had been in the mountains during the rain. I just hoped the bad weather would clear as quickly as it had come.

More photos from Devonport

External Websites:
Official Overland Track Website
Wikipedia's Overland Track Website

Continue to Day 1

Shipping to Tasmania

Picture of Melbourne.

Sunrise over Melbourne.

Jan 8, 2015
Day 175

It was time for a change of pace. I had finished the Great Ocean Walk (click here for a summary), then spent two days sea kayaking and relaxing on Torquay's beaches with Craig and some other friends. So far on my Australia trip, I had only seen Victoria, the southernmost state on the main continent. But Australia had a large chunk of land further south, a land so forgotten, it was often omitted from maps of the country. Even its name sounded exotic. Tasmania.

Driving to the island of Tasmania was out of the question. Flying was possible, but it's my least favorite way to travel. Luckily, there was another option: a ferry called the Spirit of Tasmania.

I headed to the Station Pier in Melbourne, where the ship was docked. When I stepped aboard, a woman searched my carry-on bag and immediately found my lunch of bread, cheese, avocado and carrots. Before I came to Australia, I had heard about the country's strict policy of quarantining fresh food. Now that I was leaving Victoria, I was learning that a separate quarantine applied for interstate travel. The woman made me throw away my illegal avocado and carrots. At least I could still bring the bread and cheese aboard.

After passing through the quarantine, I checked out the rest of the ship. There were several outdoor decks, where passengers took in the salty air of the Tasman sea. There was also a bar, a restaurant that served avocados for an exorbitant price and an artist. Lining the ship's interior were loud televisions showing game shows and advertisements for the island. Luckily, I had paid a bit of extra money for a cushy “ocean recliner” in a private lounge at the ship's stern. It was the only part of the ship that was free from the annoying TV screens.

The Spirit of Tasmania sped out of Melbourne at twenty-seven knots. Before long, we went through a narrow channel to exit Port Phillip. The ship rocked side to side as we entered the open sea.

I stayed parked in my assigned seat for most of the day, sleeping, eating my cheese and bread and catching up on my photos. My Australian journey had been amazing so far, and I still had about five weeks to go. I had no plans for Tasmania, but whatever I ended up doing, it was sure to be an adventure.

Picture of ferry.

The Spirit of Tasmania pulls into Devonport.

At 6:30 PM, the Spirit of Tasmania docked in the city of Devonport, on Tasmania's north coast. I stepped ashore and examined a brochure I had picked up on the ship. Along with a map of the city, several options for accommodation were listed. I called the only youth hostel in town, but they were full. Next I called a campground and was happy to learn that they had vacancies. The only problem was getting there. When I examined the map more closely, I realized that the ship had docked in West Devonport, and there was only one bridge connecting it to Devonport proper. The city buses had already stopped running. (I later learned that Tasmanians have a joke about the lack of public transportation on their island: “There's only one bus on Tassie, and it's in the garage.”) I could take a taxi, but the five-mile trip to the campground was guaranteed to be overpriced. Instead, I lowered my head, sucked in my pride and started walking along the palm-lined shore of the Mersey River.

Soon I spotted a deli with a sign outside that said “All Cheeseburgers $5.” I stepped inside and ordered a cheeseburger. The girl at the register turned around and asked the owner how much to charge. “Just charge him three dollars,” she said with a smile. I devoured the burger and continued walking, cheerful from the unsolicited discount.

Ten minutes later, I was thirsty. I was about to stop for a swig from my water bottle when I heard a guy shout, “Hey!”

I thought: I'm carrying this huge backpack. Now you need to harass me for it. You're so cool because you laugh at my misfortune.

I looked up and saw the guy who had shouted. He was standing on the second floor balcony of an apartment building, and now he was waving to get my attention. Suddenly I realized that he wasn't harassing me. He was holding a can of beer, and he was motioning for me to take it. I smiled and held up my hands, and he tossed the ice-cold can to me. “Thanks!” I said, and continued walking.

I wasn't sure if it was legal to drink in public in Devonport, Tasmania. While I pondered whether I should open the beer while it was cold, or wait an hour until I was at my campsite, I heard another guy shout, “Hey!”

An old white station wagon was parked next to the road, in a gravel lot. I thought: Great, now this guy wants to harass me.

The station wagon's windows were open. A young blond man was sitting in the driver's seat. “You need a ride?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I said. “Here's where I'm going.” I took out my map and showed him the campground.

“Sure, I can take you there,” he said. “Hop in.”

I threw my backpack on the back seat and climbed aboard. The generous man's name was Cabe. He was from Devonport, and recently, he had spent a year hitchhiking around the west coast of Canada and the US. Finding a ride was never an issue, and he met a ton of great people along the way. Now that he was back in Tasmania, he liked to return the favor. I was grateful.

Cabe drove me to the campground's office. I got out, put on my backpack and thanked him for the ride. Then I remembered: I still had the can of beer. “Here you go,” I said, and handed it to him.

The campground was packed with RV's, but there was a small area reserved for tents. I set up my tent under a pine tree and went for a walk. The campground had flush toilets, hot showers and a laundry room. A hiking trail led to the nearby beach, and away from town. I had successfully shipped to Tasmania. Now I just had to figure out what to do while I was there.

Photos from the ferry
Photos from Devonport

GMIC Beijing, 2015

Picture of phones.

People using smartphones on the subway.

Everyone in Beijing seems to have a smartphone. They're great for chatting with friends and catching up on the news. I use my smartphone to navigate through this huge city where I don't understand the language. What's the future of mobile technology, both in China, and the rest of the world?

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing. The GMIC is one of the world's largest mobile technology conferences, with over 400 speakers and 30,000 people in attendance. The conference was held in the China National Convention Center (CNCC), next to the “Bird's Nest” stadium that was made famous during the 2008 Olympics.

On the first day of the convention, I arrived early and picked up my press pass. Later I met my friend Rucky from Thailand and we toured the facilities. The first floor had a huge exhibition, with dozens of companies giving demonstrations of their latest products. Two common themes I noticed were drones and cloud computing. The drones especially got my interest; I have seen cheap models for sale in street markets in several Chinese cities. Will more sophisticated drones become commodities in the near future?

More Photos From the Exhibition

Cool as the exhibits were, Rucky and I were really there for the conference. We headed to the Thought Leader room, packed with hundreds of attendees, for the first presentations of the day. We were not disappointed. Three huge screens were set up, giving everyone in the room a larger-than-life view of the speakers. The epic opening theme talked about revolutionizing the planet with mobile technology. A live band was even set up to play between presentations.

Picture of singer.

The lead singer.

The speakers themselves were nothing short of fantastic.

Here are the highlights from some of talks I attended. Note that most of the presenters spoke in Chinese, so I only received a rough English translation through a radio earpiece. In other words, this is a summary, not a transcript.

Picture of Jing Long Zhou.

Jing Long Zhou
Overall Head
GMIC Beijing

Jing Long Zhou discussed how mobile technology is changing the world. The majority of people in developing nations exclusively use their smart phones to access the internet. They have bypassed the desktop altogether. Mr. Zhou emphasized that mobile internet access is improving people's lives around the world. He gave an energetic opening speech that got me excited to see the developments in the pipeline from the world's biggest technology companies.

Picture of Gao Xinmin.

Gao Xinmin
Vice President
Internet Society of China

The Internet Society of China (ISC) is a non-governmental organization that promotes the development of China's internet. The Society has more than 400 members, which include some of the biggest organizations operating in China, such as Baidu, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Gao Xinmin, ISC's vice president, talked about the importance of mobile internet in China. Over 800 million people in the country have internet access, and most of them use mobile devices. This number may seem staggering, but with a population of 1.35 billion, there are still a lot of people without access. This number is certain to grow in the next few years.

Mr. Xinmin also talked about Internet+ (Internet Plus), a new government policy to integrate the internet with modern manufacturing. As industrial production slows in China, a move toward the mobile internet economy will drive future economic growth.

This Forbes article has more information on Internet+.

Picture of Wen Chu.

Wen Chu
Founder & CEO

Picture of Bin Lin.

Bin Lin

Wen Chu interviewed Bin Lin to get his thoughts on Xiaomi. The company is the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, trailing only Samsung and Apple. Xiaomi sold 61 million units last year, and is expected to sell 80-100 million units in 2015. During the interview, Mr. Lin showed off his company's newest flagship phone, available soon.

According to Mr. Lin, one of Xiaomi's biggest challenges is keeping up with demand. The company has plans to expand into India. They recently received a large investment from Tata, a conglomerate that was founded in 1868 and earned $103 billion in revenue last year.

Mr. Lin repeatedly asked the audience, “Are you OK?” Apparently, this was an inside joke referencing a recent speech given by the company's CEO. Joke or not, for Xiaomi, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Picture of George Zhao.

George Zhao
Huawei Honor

George Zhao made one of the most interesting remarks I heard at the GMIC. It was translated roughly as, “Pigs can fly in the wind, but when the wind stops blowing, they all fall. We need to be birds instead.”

This may have been a poor translation, or maybe it relates to a Chinese proverb that I'm unaware of. But at any rate, I took this as a commentary on innovation. Mr. Zhao showed a photograph of a pub he visited in Dusseldorf, Germany that was 380 years old. Napoleon supposedly ate there. It was still in good condition, and it was still doing good business. A place of such high quality doesn't need to innovate. But cellphone manufacturers are not German pubs.

Mr. Zhao praised Steve Jobs but criticized Apple. He said that the iPhone 6 has a big screen, but nothing else in the way of innovation. He was especially critical of the iPhone's short battery life.

According to Mr. Zhao (again, this could be a poor translation), Huawei is like a stupid bird. They don't wait for the wind to fly. People want a high-quality phone with a long battery life. A phone that will survive a drop from 1.8 meters.

Of course, Mr. Zhao had a solution: the Huawei Honor. It feels like silk and comes with a 3600 mAh battery, which should last two days under normal use. Its dual 8MP cameras and 3GB of RAM are competitive with other modern phones.

But most impressive was the price. When Mr. Zhao and a colleague from Alibaba announced that the phone will cost 799 - 999 rmb ($129 - $161), the audience gasped. For comparison, the iPhone 6 costs around 6000 rmb in China. At this price point, millions of Chinese consumers will be able to buy their first smartphones.

After watching Mr. Zhao's presentation, I could feel the energy in the crowd. He did a great job getting people interested in his company's products.

Picture of Matt Grob.

Matt Grob

Matt Grob began his speech with some mind-boggling statistics: 86% of people accessing the internet in China do so on a mobile device. Last year, 100 million people in China used the internet for the first time. By 2020, 25-50 billion devices will be connected worldwide.

Mr. Grob then laid out some of Qualcomm's priorities. Higher bandwidths clearly will be needed in the near future. To alleviate the bandwidth dilemma, his company has created technology to aggregate carriers, yielding up to three times faster download speeds. Security is also a priority. Qualcomm's next-generation fingerprint reader will do a better job at identifying users, even when they have sweat or oil on their fingers. Another priority is adding proximate services to automobiles. Cars will become more connected, allowing them to warn each another of upcoming hazards.

Finally, Mr. Grob showed off his company's new Zeroth technology. In an amazing live demo, he put several pictures in front of a video camera, and a computer gave a description of the images. It was fast and accurate. This was one of the most impressive demos I saw at GMIC.

As this technology matures, I think it could render QR codes obsolete. Imagine pointing your phone's camera at anything and immediately getting information about it. It could even be applied to autonomous cars. All sorts of breakthroughs could come from this sort of AI.

Picture of Mark Ren.

Mark Ren

Mark Ren of Tencent talked quite a bit about wearables, specifically smart watches. The biggest disadvantage with most smart watches is that they have limited functionality when not in range of a smartphone. Tencent will soon release an operating system to be used in many types of devices connected to the internet. When implemented in a watch, users will be able to go for a jog, order a taxi, reserve a table at a restaurant and check in for a flight, all without being connected to a separate device.

Tencent owns some of the biggest social networks in China, including QQ and WeChat, so this operating system could make a huge impact on wearable technology, if it gains industry acceptance.

Picture of Hiroshi Ishiguro.

Hiroshi Ishiguro
Distinguished Professor
Osaka University

Hiroshi Ishiguro was one of the most famous presenters at the conference. The professor from Osaka University in Japan has focused much of his career on robotics. Specifically, he wants to build a robot that is indistinguishable from a human being. At this year's GMIC, he introduced his latest android (Yang Song), who stood next to her human counterpart. The robot gave a long speech in Mandarin, swiveling her torso and gesturing with her arms the whole time.

Unfortunately, this android didn't come anywhere near convincing the audience that she was, in fact, human. Her movements were, well, robotic. She was slow to respond to commands. When a human who was standing next to her offered a handshake, she awkwardly lifted her arm and continued to face forward. Later, I saw her at the exhibition and noticed that her electric power and CPU were located in an external unit. How long until Moore's Law enables Mr. Ishiguro to embed this unit inside one of his androids?

The robotic Hang Song didn't exactly creep me out, but unfortunately, I think she still falls into the “uncanny valley” that everyone from robot makers to movie animators try to avoid. (This article explains the uncanny valley.) I think the problem is, until a robot appears so real that humans don't realize it's a robot, it's going to seem creepy. We're a long way from that achievement, but I'm glad pioneers like Mr. Ishiguro are working hard to get us there.

Picture of Chang-Hwan Lee.

Chang-Hwan Lee

Chang-Hwan Lee introduced his company's latest product, the FXMirror. The concept is simple enough: a computer screen acts as a virtual mirror. You can see how you would look in various outfits, without having to change clothes. Here is the company's promotional video for the FXMirror.

Because you can use the FXMirror without changing clothes, it could save you a lot of time in selecting an outfit. And FXMirror makes it easy to share pictures of yourself wearing your new virtual clothing.

Unfortunately, the live demo was buggy. The dresses didn't cover the model's whole body, so her real clothing appeared as a white line along her torso. Her virtual clothes looked cartoon-ish, not three-dimensional. And even if FXGear works these kinks out of its system, will people really buy clothing without being able to feel the fabric on their bodies? Obviously, online shopping already exists, so the reason people still buy clothes in malls is to try on actual clothing. Does this technology improve enough upon old-fashioned mirrors for department stores to justify buying one? I hate to be a naysayer, but this product looks like an expensive gimmick.

Picture of Rick Bergman.

Rick Bergman

Like many other presenters, Rick Bergman opened with some mind-blowing statistics. Currently, 50,000 apps are downloaded from the Apple Store, and 10 million messages are sent on WeChat every minute. Clearly, mobile technology is here to stay, so what does the future look like?

Mr. Bergman laid it out in four phases:

Phase 1 will give us better displays. Smartphones with 4K screen resolution will be here within a few years. So will curved and bendable screens.

Phase 2 is personalization. Your phone will know who you are, and you won't need to memorize lengthy passwords. More sophisticated fingerprint and retina scanners are on the way. Synaptics is a member of the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance, which should increase interoperability between devices, allowing users to be identified with fewer passwords. (Here is FIDO's website.)

Phase 3 is contextual awareness. Your phone will have a better understanding of your environment. Augmented Reality will become commonplace.

Phase 4 is omnipresence. Trillions of devices will exist by this point. Mr. Bergman showed a chart that illustrated the exponential decay in the weight of electronic devices. Computers went from taking up whole rooms in the 1950s, to desktops in the '80s, to laptops in the 2000s, to smartphones today. Soon, wearables will become commonplace. By 2040, computers will weigh one gram, the weight of a paperclip. These nano-devices will have all sorts of applications, not only in the environment, but also inside the human body.

Mr. Bergman presented an exciting look into the future. What I'm wondering is, how long until we have nanobots swimming through our bloodstream, seeking out and eliminating cancerous cells and other diseases before we even know they're there?

Picture of William Wang and Joost Schreve.

Joost Schreve
VP Mobile

William Wang
AA Car

Travel is one of my biggest passions, so I was especially interested in this discussion. Joost Schreve said that when he traveled in the '90s, he used to carry a guidebook everywhere he went. Then, in the 2000s, internet cafes became the dominant way travelers got information. Nowadays, people travel with smartphones, so they can find reviews on hotels and restaurants using TripAdvisor, from almost everywhere in the world. (I still prefer to get travel advice by talking face-to-face with other human beings, but I'll admit, smartphones are pretty cool.)

William Wang talked about his company and its attempt to displace Uber in China. Actually he pointed out that Uber never had a large market share in the country. They simply ignored China at first, and now they're the underdog. In the last few years, ride-sharing apps have been a disruptive technology worldwide. China is no exception.

For me, the most interesting facet of this discussion wasn't TripAdvisor or AA Car. It was the fact that these two men, who didn't share a common language, could have a discussion, with limited interruption. The bilingual moderator helped, but there were times when Mr. Schreve and Mr. Wang seemed to interact like old pals, even though they couldn't understand each other. The technology that made this possible was not new, and I never heard it discussed at the conference. It was an earpiece that everyone wore, with an unseen person translating in real-time.

What's the future of this technology?

Currently, it's possible for anyone with enough money to hire a translator to follow them around. You could also hire someone who is working from home to translate conversations over the internet. Maybe such a service already exists. How long until a computer can do this, without needing a human middleman? In the not-so-distant future, I could see a computer translator that would make learning a new language unnecessary. I'm passionate about both languages and technology, so this is both a sad and exciting thought.

Picture of Dippak Khurana, Richard Robinson and Steven Goh.

Richard Robinson

Dippak Khurana
CEO & Co-Founder

Steven Goh

Dippak Khurana gave some more amazing statistics. Last year, 100 million new people began to use the internet in India. There are currently 200 million mobile users in the country. By 2018 that number will balloon to 600 million. Most people in India are being introduced to the internet via smartphones; they have never used a desktop computer. Today, India has 500 million app downloads per month.

My main takeaway from this discussion was that India today is where China was five years ago, in terms of its mobile internet. The market is not yet saturated, so it's a really exciting time to be in India.

Picture of Rui Ma.

Rui Ma
Investment Partner
500 Startups

Rui Ma mentioned that Facebook isn't accessible in China. She was the first (and only) person at the GMIC I heard bring up this fact. She also reiterated that Uber moved into the Chinese market too late. It is the dominant ride-sharing app in the rest of the world, but in China, it's playing catch-up.

Ms. Ma noted that humans are terrible at predicting the future. This was interesting to hear, considering that her firm, 500 Startups, attempts to do just that. This statement really made me think about all of the GMIC. The entire conference exists to give us a glimpse at future technologies. How many of the things I saw will actually make it into the marketplace?

Another interesting thing that Ms. Ma noted was that Silicon Valley is the least global and least responsive region on the planet. This is simply because the US is huge, and it's already saturated with the latest technologies. Smaller markets are much better at adapting to changing trends. It's an interesting thought, and one that I'm sure guides her in deciding which companies to invest in.

Picture of Danielle Levitas.

Danielle Levitas
SVP Research & Analysis
App Annie

App Annie studies trends in the global app economy, and Danielle Levitas gave us an extensive analysis. Google Play gets more downloads than the Apple Store, but the Apple Store makes more money. Apple still is lagging in China, but they are putting in a lot of effort to expand their market share. Currently, there are 21 Apple Stores in the country. By the end of next year, there will be 40.

Hardware and software developers are increasing their focus on China, and it's easy to see why. China's vast population makes the market too lucrative to ignore. China is currently overtaking the US in terms of mobile users and downloads. It will continue to have more users than any other country for the foreseeable future.

As for trends in devices, larger phones are starting to take away some market share from tablets. Therefore, the tablet market will soften in the near future, and wearables will grow. Phones, of course, will dominate.

Finally, Ms. Levitas discussed software. Games have dominated on mobile devices, and this will continue in the future. One surprising stat is that educational software is also growing at 25% per year. This indicates that people are interested in using their phones for more than just fun and games.


I was thoroughly impressed at this year's GMIC. The conference center was huge and modern, and the speakers were amazing. There was a palpable optimism in the air, about China, the world and the future of mobile technology. The one thing I was hoping to hear more of was improvements in battery life (George Zhao excluded). Nowadays, it seems that power banks (those large batteries that can charge phones) are standard for people to lug around all day. I would love to get back to a time when a phone's battery life is measured in days instead of hours.

Much has changed in China over the last decade. It's exciting to witness the country's continuing progress firsthand. The GMIC laid out a wonderful future for China. I can't wait to see what happens next.

More Photos From the Presentations
More Photos From the Convention Center

GMIC Beijing's Website